The United States is one of the few countries in the world that has an official day for children to honor their fathers. It's a special time when fathers receive gifts or have dinner prepared for them or are otherwise made to feel special.
But no one is exactly sure how a special day to honor fathers began. Although there are skeptics who believe Father's Day was established simply to promote commercial interests like selling greeting cards or giving gifts, there are others who say it began with a church service in West Virginia in 1908. Others say it began a year later, and was the brainchild of a woman in the State of Washington. She wanted to honor her own father for raising his six children as a single parent after his wife died in childbirth.
However it began, in 1966, President Lyndon Johnson proclaimed Father's Day a national holiday to be celebrated on the third Sunday of June.
Jacqueline Coffman, a professor of family studies at California State University, says it was significant to set a day for honoring fathers in America. "I think it is important for us to acknowledge the long term relationship we have with fathers," she says. "I think in our busy everyday world, we forget and we do not always take the time to let people who are important in our life know how much we value their influence on our life, and the sacrifices that they made to help us become what we have and so when we take an opportunity to recognize them and make it a special day, I think that is the important part.
Coffman believes that being a nation of immigrants from different cultures has influenced the characteristics of American fathers. "We have become such a culturally diverse society that it's really impossible to come up with one definition that will fit all," she notes. "But as a society, I think we hope that our fathers do take the time to get to know their children, that they make it clear that education is a critical step in having opportunities for the future. It is always wonderful when they become involved in their children's homework and know who the teachers are and participate in school activities whenever possible."
Coffman says involvement is key. In the early part of the 20th century, American fathers were busy being the primary breadwinners and the only time of real contact with their children was at dinnertime. But Jacqueline Coffman says, "As we get to the generation of the 1960's, I think we started to look more androgynous in our society; there was a push for men to be softer and express their feelings, and for women to be more assertive and not following a typical stereotyped path in their lives."
The result, she says has been "a sort of cultural shift in our expectations of what men can do. And perhaps that opened the door for them where they were having the opportunity to have a more nurturing role in their children's life."
According to Professor Coffman, American fathers have come a long way in terms of trying to spend quality time with their children. She says a survey of both fathers and mothers indicates that fathers "are a lot more involved in their children's life than the children actually think it is happening."
Today, as growing numbers of mothers and fathers share the role of parenting, they often adjust their work schedules so that at least one of them is with their children.
And so, just as we honored moms back in May on Mother's Day, Dad's special day is June 18: Happy Father's Day!